Review: 'Til The World Ends by Julie Kagawa, Ann Aguirre, Karen Duvall

Sunday, September 29, 2013
Title: 'Til The World Ends
Author: Julie Kagawa, Ann Aguirre,Karen Duvall
Genre: post-apocalyptic, romance
Series: Blood of Eden 0.5
Pages: 361 (ARC edition)
Published: January 29, 2013
Source: Publishers
Rating: 4/5
New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed authors Julie Kagawa, Ann Aguirre and Karen Duvall imagine what it takes to survive in a world where everything you know—and love—is about to disappear…forever.

Dawn of Eden by Julie Kagawa
Before The Immortal Rules, there was Red Lung, a relentless virus determined to take out all in its path. For Kylie, the miracle of her survival is also her burden—as a doctor at one of the clinics for the infected, she is forced to witness endless suffering. What's worse, strange things are happening to the remains of the dead, and by the time she befriends Ben Archer, she's beginning to wonder if a global pandemic is the least of her problems….

Thistle & Thorne by Ann Aguirre
After a catastrophic spill turns the country into a vast chemical wasteland, those who could afford it retreated to fortresses, self-contained communities run by powerful corporations. But for Mari Thistle, life on the outside—in the Red Zone—is a constant struggle. To protect her family, Mari teams up with the mysterious Thorne Goodman. Together, they'll face an evil plot in both the underworld of the Red Zone and the society inside the fortresses that could destroy those on the outside…for good.

Sun Storm by Karen Duvall
Sarah Daggot has been chasing storms since she was a child. But after the biggest solar flares in history nearly destroy the planet, she becomes a Kinetic, endowed by her exposure to extreme radiation with the power to sense coming storms—in the cosmos and beyond. And she's not the only one. Sarah believes the Kinetics are destined to join forces and halt the final onslaught of the sun. She'll vow to keep trying to convince the one missing link in their chain of defense, the enigmatic Ian Matthews, up until the world ends.

Reviewed by Danielle

This anthology by three big names in the young adult/urban fantasy genres, takes three very different looks at the end of the world. With strong heroines and a romantic bend, each author's novella pits the protagonist against a different catastrophe to Earth. Individual reviews follow.

Dawn of Eden by Julie Kagawa - 2.5 stars

As most of the reviewers of the anthology, I picked this up primarily for Julie’s story. Obviously the editors were also aware of her pull, as she receives more than 40% of the total book. Unlike most of the other early reviews, I was extremely dissatisfied with this short.

Kylie is med student working at a clinic outside Washington DC “treating” victims of the deadly Red Lung Virus. Unfortunately for Kylie, the victims, and the world at large, there is no treatment but hope and morphine for the pain. Most people die from the virus turning their lungs to jelly, but Kylie is a rare survivor and it has left her immune to the disease and its mutations, making her the perfect candidate to run a quickly failing clinic.

Life trudges along, growing darker and more bleak every day, until suddenly! Ben Archer and his life-changing beauty stroll into the clinic. Everything would be awfully swell, if he wasn’t dragging his buddy, bearing suspiciously humanoid bites. From there, we devolve into a frightfully standard zombie/vampire plot that I originally described as “"Have you ever thought, ‘Man I wish I Am Legend was actually a romance novel!’?” Now I know this was probably way harsh, as it also includes liberal doses of World War Z and 28 Days Later.

The story is so derivative as to be boring. It takes the worst of the zombie genre and the worst of the romance genre. The love scenes are incongruous and came out of nowhere. The first sex scene, when Kylie and Ben have sex in the middle of a Rabid attack, felt extremely out of place for what we knew of Kylie’s character. I’m not one to judge a woman for getting some end of the world nookie, but by her own admission, it’s not something that she usually would do, except she’s so in love with Ben. After 2 days. And if that’s not enough, his magic fingers bring Kylie to climax just as a Rabid screams outside, “chilling and terrifying, but [she was] too far gone to even care”. Funny in a way I’m sure the author did not intend.

As a prequel to Blood of Eden, Dawn of Eden did nothing for me, and as a stand alone short, it did less.

Thistle & Thorne by Ann Aguirre - 4.5 stars

This, on the other hand, did a lot, for me and the anthology. Mari Thistle is a thief specializing in pre-disaster antiquities in hard to reach/dangerous locals. An orphan raising two younger siblings, Mari takes a job with a local crime boss, Stavros, to recover a statuette from inside the “Fortresses”. These heavily guarded communities house the rich and powerful, while the rest of the populace is doomed to struggle along in the Red Zone.

Sadly for Mari, Stavros gives her terrible, outdated intel that almost immediately launches her into a high speed chase from robot guards with one of his hired men, Thorne Goodman. The ruggedly handsome Thorne, (can I interject that I LOVED the idea that beauty standards have changed in the post-apocalyptic future and Mari is super attracted to his scar because it means he can fight?) reveals that Mari was never supposed to make it out of the Fortress and he is supposed to take her to be executed for her failure. Instead, Thistle and Thorne team up to take out Stavros instead, though don’t mistake Thorne’s reasoning for altruistic. He wants to take the mob boss’ place to avenge a mysterious girl in his past.

The romance is far subtler than the last story, but infinitely more effective than insta-love boinking. The plot moved along at a good clip, the characters developed, and the final confrontation was tense and exciting. My only true complaint is rather abrupt end, that closes without wrapping up all of the loose threads. Hopefully Aguirre intends to expand on the world in future stories.

Sun Storm by Karen Duvall - 4 stars

I have to admit that Sun Storm’s plot felt the thinnest of the three. Solar storms cause most people caught in them to die of radiation poisoning, but some special people are granted solar radiation-based super powers. There is a love story, that while not instant, is a little too quick for comfort. And the end? Ridiculous, contrived, and fell into place too quickly.

So why four stars?

Because none of that mattered while I was reading it. I gave my grades as soon as I was done and in the moment, I really enjoyed Sun Storm. I’ve spent a week trying to describe why and it’s just not happening. Sometimes it’s not enough to just detail what makes a book good or bad, you have to go with how it makes you feel. And Sun Storm with zombies, rogue government agents, and magic powers still ended up working just right.

Sometimes, you just can’t articulate what makes a book work. You just have to go with your gut and hope it's not ripped out by irradiated monsters.

While I didn't enjoy one of the three stories, I still recommend this anthology highly. Aguirre is a revelation and Duvall takes a ludicrous plot and makes it enjoyable. 

Bookish Arrivals

Saturday, September 28, 2013
So, as I do periodically, I went a bit book crazy these last few weeks. Here are all the ones I bought (plus one ARC sent for a blog tour):

ROSE UNDER FIRE! by Elizabeth Wein. Out of everthing I got, and there are some highly-coveted books herein, none was more coveted than RUF. Even Bitterblue doesn't compare. I loved Code Name Verity from my head to my toes so I have been waiting for this book since FEBRUARY. As soon as I can, this book is going down.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld. This is for a readalong with Lyn of Great Imaginations and Pixie from the Bookaholic. I've heard the prose is lovely so I am pretty excited to start this soon.

BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore. I am also ridiculously excited for this. I love love love Graceling and, to a slightly lesser degree, Fire, so a return to this world (and PO) is more than welcome.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. Over the last year, I've become quite the fan of Zarr's. While neither Sweethearts nor Story of a Girl has matched my love for How to Save a Life, I am still eager to see what this one has in store.

Relic by Renee Collins. Like I've said before, if you mention dragons, I'm pretty much dead set on reading your book.

The Shattering by Karen Healey.A book I found discounted on Amazon, I don't know much besides I liked the cover and synopsis enough to buy it purely on a whim.

The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman. My extreme love for the author's The Book of Blood and Shadow made this a must buy for me, even if I am not a fan of horror books without zombies in them. Reviews have been good, and I've been sneaking chapters when I can and I do think I will enjoy this.

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. I've already read this and holy moley this is a readable, compelling, utterly infuriating book. 

Five Flavors of Dumb by  Antony John. All I know about this is that a few friends have really liked it and the hardcover was on sale for less than $4.

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill. When I ordered this, it was a standalone. It's since morphed into a series and I am really not sure how I like that. 

Kinslayer (The Lotus War #2) by Jay Kristoff. I was lucky enough to get a print ARC of this earlier this summer so it's another I've already read (and reviewed.) And it is AWESOME.

 The Dream Thieves (Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater. I utterly loved the first Raven Boys novel (it was my first Stiefvater, too!) so this is another highly anticipated read.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab. The hype around this is incredible. But hopefully, truthful. Another I wish I had two pairs of eyes for so I could read it while going about my daily life.

Steelheart (The Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson. I loooooove Brandon Sanderson. He writes some of the best fantasies around (Mistborn, Stormlight Archive, etc.) and I am very interested to see what he does with this more modern novel.

Lastly, the ARC I was sent - The Color of Light by Helen Maryles Shankman. Thank you to TLC Tours for this one. And it is a hefty brick. Seriously, this book is big and weighty. But I am very much looking forward to reading it.

I also bought ebooks this morning. But first there was this:

Nook is having quite the sale. If you move quick enough, you can get all of these books at half off the regular ebook price. And those four books are:

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

 On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.

Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.

The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City, with just six months left of the three year deadline she gave herself to succeed. But so far, all she has to show for her efforts is a single line in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters and a degrading waitressing job. She lives in Brooklyn with two roommates-Jane, her best friend from college, and Dan, a sci-fi writer, who is very definitely not boyfriend material-and is struggling with her feelings for a suspiciously charming guy in her acting class, all while trying to find a hair-product cocktail that actually works.

Meanwhile, she dreams of doing "important" work, but only ever seems to get auditions for dishwashing liquid and peanut butter commercials. It's hard to tell if she'll run out of time or money first, but either way, failure would mean facing the fact that she has absolutely no skills to make it in the real world. Her father wants her to come home and teach, her agent won't call her back, and her classmate Penelope, who seems supportive, might just turn out to be her toughest competition yet.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a funny and charming debut about finding yourself, finding love, and, most difficult of all, finding an acting job.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship - and innocent love - that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice - words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Margot by Jillian Cantor

 Anne Frank has long been a symbol of bravery and hope, but there were two sisters hidden in the annex, two young Jewish girls, one a cultural icon made famous by her published diary and the other, nearly forgotten.

In the spring of 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen to great acclaim, and a young woman named Margie Franklin is working in Philadelphia as a secretary at a Jewish law firm. On the surface she lives a quiet life, but Margie has a secret: a life she once lived, a past and a religion she has denied, and a family and a country she left behind.

Margie Franklin is really Margot Frank, older sister of Anne, who did not die in Bergen-Belsen as reported, but who instead escaped the Nazis for America. But now, as her sister becomes a global icon, Margie’s carefully constructed American life begins to fall apart. A new relationship threatens to overtake the young love that sustained her during the war, and her past and present begin to collide. Margie is forced to come to terms with Margot, with the people she loved, and with a life swept up into the course of history.

So many books, so little time!

Book Tour Review and GIVEAWAY: Shadowlark by Meagan Spooner

Friday, September 27, 2013
Title: Shadowlark
Author: Meagan Spooner
Genre: steampunk, dystopia, supernatural, young adult, post-apocalyptic
Series: Skylark #2
Pages: 336 (ARC edition)
Published: expected October 1 2013
Source: blog tour hosted by Step Into Fiction
Rating: 4/5

Ever since she escaped the city within the Wall, Lark Ainsley's wanted one thing: to find her brother Basil. She's always believed he would be the one to put an end to the constant fear and flight. And now, hidden underground in the chaotically magical city of Lethe, Lark feels closer to him than ever.

But Lethe is a city cowering in fear of its founder, the mysterious Prometheus, and of his private police force. To get the truth about what happened to Basil, Lark has no choice but to face Prometheus.

Facing her fears has become second nature to Lark. Facing the truth is another matter.

Lark never asked to be anyone's savior. She certainly never wanted to be anyone's weapon. She might not have a choice.

Shadowlark is the second book in Meagan Spooner's Skylark series, and it's a strong, exciting, and fun read. It's the rare sequel that improves upon the first book and that will thoroughly satisfy the series fans. Larger in scope and wider in focus, Shadowlark shows the familiar characters we've grown to love, as well as introducing new cities, new people, and altogether new threats. Like the first book, the story is divided into three parts, and as Lark moves from place to place, she uncovers troubling inconsistencies in the world she thought she knew.

I love when book series try to do something different from the norm, and with this series' creative uses and combinations of dystopia, post-apocalyptic, magic, and steampunk, it definitely qualifies as different. Spooner incorporates all these disparate elements remarkably well into a solid and strong mishmash of a world where magic is key, and cities are ruled absolutely through control of the "Renewables". The key aspects of each genre are worked into the novel subtly - the steampunk aspects are few but important, the dystopian flair is important but not overwhelming, the post-apocalyptic details are sparse but key to the world as it is. It may seem like too much for one series, but Spooner effortless combines them to create a viable, unique, and interesting world.

The characters we've read before have grown and changed greatly as a direct result from the events of book one. Lark, especially, has new issues to grapple and reconcile with here in book two. She is older, wiser, and more self-aware. She is able to fend for herself and though she has companions, she is pretty self-sufficient. Her growth from "fish-out-water" agoraphobe to intrepid adventurer has been handled rather well. She isn't as good at survivalism as say Tansy, or Oren, but she can definitely hold her own and save herself. Along with her new aptiitude outside of city walls, Lark also has to contend with her new powers and what they mean.

Like book one, Spooner crafts a pretty big twist later in the novel. If readers pay close attention, the twist is slightly more obvious than the one central to the plot in Skylark, but it still packs quite a punch when all is revealed. The small clues sprinkled throughout the narrative were well hidden and circumspect -- I think fans will be surprised and impressed with the latest turn Lark's story takes in the city of Lethe. Spooner's style of writing lends itself well to action and suspense, so the book is a fast, involving read. I was so involved that when I stopped reading to eat, I found myself 90 pages from the end. In one sitting. I could not put it down. Through her inventive ideas, complex characters, and action-packed plotting, Spooner has written a novel that refuses to be set aside.

Second novels in trilogies are notoriously hard to pull off with satisfaction. These "bridge books" often feel like filler, or like nothing happens, but that is far from the case with Shadowlark. I enjoyed it even more than the first book. The multiple questions raised by the narrative (what makes a monster? What does it mean to wield control? The needs of the few versus the needs of the many) are woven into Lark's story with ease and make for some critical thinking -- which can be sadly uncommon for a YA novel. Shadowlark is, above all, a great read and a thoroughly satisfying followup to Skylark. It won't disappoint, and it will leave readers extremely eager to see what unfurls in book three.

Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She’s traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.

She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there.

In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads

Find her on:


Meagan Spooner has offered up a paperback copy of Shadowlark for a giveaway.

  • Open to US addresses only
  • Giveaway ends October 8th, 2013
  • Full contest terms and conditions found on Rafflecopter
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Grand Prize Giveaway (Open Internationally)

As part of the Shadowlark Blog Tour you can enter to win signed copies of Skylark and Shadowlark (US/Canada only) and unsigned copies of Skylark and Shadowlark sent via Book Depository (INTL). The winner will also win either a query critique (if an aspiring author) OR a pre-order copy of These Broken Stars (her new series co-written with Amie Kaufman).

For the grand prize giveaway, each stop will have a password to put on our review/post. In order for you to unlock more chances to win you’ll need to visit each stop to collect all the passwords. The password for this stop is BETRAYAL; use the Rafflecopter below to enter to win the grand prize!

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Monday, September 23
Tuesday, September 24
Wednesday, September 25
Thursday, September 26
Friday, September 27
Monday, September 30
Tuesday, October 1 {RELEASE DAY}
Wednesday, October 2
Thursday, October 3
Friday, October 4

15 Day Blogger Challenge - Blog Appeal

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I was late to know about this awesome challenge out together by Good Books and Good Wine, so when a friend wanted to start it late, I jumped it. There are several of us joining in - every Friday for 15 weeks, Christina of A Reader of Fictions, Lili of Lili's Reflections, Mickey of I'm A Book Shark and I will post our challenge answers. Stop by their blogs to see their answers!

There are a lot of blogs out there, and it can be hard to find ones that you can rely on and like. It took me a while to find the ones I consult the most often, and this list is what helped my find blogs suited for me.

  • Content
If your blog is 90% memes, that's not helpful to your audience. There is nothing wrong with doing TTT, or WoW, or STS. But if that is all you post, with little to no reviews -- chances are I won't be following.

  • Originality
I like to hear someone's voice in what they write. I like for blogs to do things on their own and try for something new. Like Reader of Fiction's weekly Cover Snark posts - an original and awesome feature that Christina utilizes well.

  • Creativity
Do something out of the box! Get my attention! Let your bookish side show! Like Gillian at Writer of Wrongs Baking the Books idea. That's creative -- and it showcases a whole new side of Gillian.

  • Honesty
If you dislike a book, rate it accordingly. If all I see are 4 and 5-star reviews, I'm not going to view your reviews as accurate. No one loves every book they read. Even if you are the champ of DNFing, some books disappoint halfway through, or the ending falls flat. Be honest with how you feel.  

  • Diversity
People find favorite genres, but I am drawn more to blogs that feature more than just fantasy, or contemporary. Change it up! Variety is the spice of life. If you like and review sci fi, YA, contemporary, dystopia, and post-apocalyptic? I'm sold. 

  • Humor 
I'm a sucker for anything funny. If you snark, or like puns, or can make creative post titles, I'm halfway to being a fan based on that alone. I do like solid, serious reviews, but not always. Some books deserve humor/snark/etc. 

  • Lack of Captcha
Captcha is evil. No one likes it. And chances are, if you have it enabled, I won't be commenting... no matter how much I like your posts.

  • Reciprocity
Book blogging is all about the community. If you never comment back, or reply, I'm going to assume my time spent on your blog was wasted. You get what you give, and if you're a non-commenter, I won't put in the effort.

I know I am supposed to list 15 things, but those are the key ones for me. Those are the guidelines I use when exploring for new blogs to follow. 

And, obviously, all these opinions are just mine and not indicative of what any/everyone else likes to see.

Book Tour Review: Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu

Title: Aunty Lee's Delights
Author: Ovidia Yu
Genre: mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 260 (paperback)
Published: September 17 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

This delectable and witty mystery introduces Rosie "Aunty" Lee, feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore's best-loved home cooking restaurant.

After losing her husband, Rosie Lee could easily have become one of Singapore's "tai tai," an idle rich lady devoted to mah-jongg and luxury shopping. Instead she threw herself into building a culinary empire from her restaurant, Aunty Lee's Delights, where spicy Singaporean home cooking is graciously served to locals and tourists alike. But when a body is found in one of Singapore's beautiful tourist havens, and when one of her wealthy guests fails to show at a dinner party, Aunty Lee knows that the two are likely connected.

The murder and disappearance throws together Aunty Lee's henpecked stepson Mark, his social-climbing wife Selina, a gay couple whose love is still illegal in Singapore, and an elderly Australian tourist couple whose visit-billed at first as a pleasure cruise-may mask a deeper purpose. Investigating the murder is rookie Police Commissioner Raja, who quickly discovers that the savvy and well-connected Aunty Lee can track down clues even better than local law enforcement.

Wise, witty and unusually charming, Aunty Lee's Delights is a spicy mystery about love, friendship and home cooking in Singapore, where money flows freely and people of many religions and ethnicities co-exist peacefully, but where tensions lurk just below the surface, sometimes with deadly results.

Aunty Lee's Delights made for a quick, amusing, clever read. It's a shorter novel, but Ovidia Yu more than makes use of those 260ish pages to create some memorable characters and a well-orchestrated murder mystery. It also made me really hungry for the food featured. It entertained me as clever Aunty Lee pieced together the mystery of the deaths of two women on Sentosa, in Singapore.

There are a plethora of suspects to be had in Aunty Lee's Delights. The author is smart to spread suspicion and uncertainty amongst the cast and for the majority of the book it's hard to pin down the culprit. They are an interesting bunch: from Aunty's somewhat-oblivious stepson Mark, his avaricious and jealous wife Selina, the Australian couple with a secret, the older but newer Singaporean resident Harry, a sometime employee of Mark and his wife, a newly arrived guest who is hiding something and not to mention Aunty herself and her servant Nina.

Anuty Lee proves herself a force to be reckoned with in Singapore -- and not just in the kitchen. With her connections and whipsmart intelligence, Anuty finds herself piecing the puzzle ahead of the official investigators. She's a nosy, friendly busybody but one who find herself to be a rather useful cog as the police scramble to uncover the murderer in the midst of a wine and dine party. She is the most interesting character in Aunty Lee's Delights and her various actions help propel the plot and to keep the clues coming in.

The possible first in a series, Yu provides a lot to like here. The writing is crisp and easy, the characters are well-formed and well-drawn, and the mystery is nicely constructed with a small pool of suspects to investigate. Aunty Lee's Delights is a fun mishmash of food and culture, murder and mystery.

Ovidia’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 17th: Olduvai Reads

Wednesday, September 18th: Lavish Bookshelf

Thursday, September 19th: Wordsmithonia

Monday, September 23rd: Helen’s Book Blog

Tuesday, September 24th: guiltless reading

Wednesday, September 25th: Bibliophilia, Please!

Thursday, September 26th: Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, October 1st: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, October 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, October 7th: A Chick Who Reads

Book Tour Review: The Shogun's Daughter by Laura Joh Rowland

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Title: The Shogun's Daugter
Author: Laura Joh Rowland
Genre: historical fiction, myster

Series: Sano Ichiro #17
Pages: 336
Published: September 17 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3/5

Japan, 1704.  In an elegant mansion a young woman named Tsuruhime lies on her deathbed, attended by her nurse.  Smallpox pustules cover her face.  Incense burns, to banish the evil spirits of disease. After Tsuruhime takes her last breath, the old woman watching from the doorway says, “Who’s going to tell the Shogun his daughter is dead?”

The death of the Shogun's daughter has immediate consequences on his regime. There will be no grandchild to leave the kingdom. Faced with his own mortality and beset by troubles caused by the recent earthquake, he names as his heir Yoshisato, the seventeen-year-old son he only recently discovered was his. Until five months ago, Yoshisato was raised as the illegitimate son of Yanagisawa, the shogun's favorite advisor. Yanagisawa is also the longtime enemy of Sano Ichiro.

Sano doubts that Yoshisato is really the Shogun's son, believing it's more likely a power-play by Yanagisawa. When Sano learns that Tsuruhime's death may have been a murder, he sets off on a dangerous investigation that leads to more death and destruction as he struggles to keep his pregnant wife, Reiko, and his son safe. Instead, he and his family become the accused. And this time, they may not survive the day.

Feudal Japan meets a murder mystery in Rowland's latest novel.  For a newcomer to this seventeen volume series, The Shogun's Daughter functions moderately well as a standalone and introduction to Rowland's oeuvre. The book starts with the eponymous death of the daughter of the Shogun, and the demise of Tokugawa Tsuruhime begins a cycle of betrayal, violence, and malice that will have immediate repercussions for all the characters of the story. It's hard to start a series without reading or summarizing the first book, but The Shogun's Daughter still proved to be an engaging and creative historical mystery.

The main character, Chamberlain to the Shogun, Sano Ichiro, is the focus of the bulk of the novel's third person narration. The series of books is built around him as the main character, and thus has already firmly established his character and voice, so there is rather little development on that front. Coupling with his duties to the Shogun, Sano investigates Tsuruhime's death for several reasons - to protect his family, and to bring down his unscrupulous and malicious enemy Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. The characters are presumably familiar to long-running readers, but their multiple motives, actions, and opinions can be harder to navigate for newer readers.

The mystery of who was behind Tsuruhime's untimely death propels most of the plot for The Shogun's Daughter. There is a side plot involving (I assume) a more major player in another series - Hirata. His storyline is markedly weaker as it has little bearing for the plot surrounding Sano Ichiro. There was rather more telling than I would have liked. The author has a habit of spelling out what certain developments mean to different characters ("Their remarks imlpied that the young man had had an affair. Masahiro was excited because it might have bearing on her murder." - p. 75) and it can bog down the pace and narrative. I'm always a fan of showing rather than outright dictation and struggled with that aspect of the writing.

Fans of the series will find a well-crafted mystery to be found here. There are red herrings to keep the mystery alive, and plenty of murders and betrayals to keep the tension high. The final portion of the novel definitely ramps it up a notch - the stakes become higher and much more personal for Sano and his family. With a simple style that makes for a fast read, The Shogun's Daughter is an entertaining historical diversion.

On Goodreads

Sunday, September 22, 2013
I usually refrain from posting other-than-book discussions, or personal pieces on here. This is primarily a review/book haul blog, but today, something is different.

Goodreads is different. My internet home for more than three years has taken an about face in how they will moderate reviews and shelves. According to the new TOS:

 1. Reviews should be about the book. If you think a book is a masterpiece, tell people why. If you hated the book, say so. If it had potential but fell short, share your perspective.

2. Members are not permitted to harass or threaten other people. We have always dealt with this promptly when it has been brought to our attention.

We have done our best to uphold these tenets, and they aren’t changing. But we recently recognized that we can do a better job enforcing them, particularly in the small number of situations where tensions start to run high. We took a long, hard look at our guidelines and how we moderate Goodreads and identified some areas where we can be clearer and where we can improve. I wanted to share with you some of the changes we are now making:

**Make it easier for anyone who feels concerned about content on Goodreads to get help from Goodreads staff. We have now improved the visibility of our flag button, and have added the ability to flag inappropriate friend requests. Of course, people can also reach us through If you see any inappropriate content or behavior on Goodreads, please use these options. We’re here to deal with this so that individual members don’t have to.

**Better education for authors about Goodreads and our review guidelines. It’s clear that some problems have come up because some authors who are new to Goodreads don’t know what’s appropriate on Goodreads and/or take matters into their own hands rather than flagging content that they feel is inappropriate. We’ve therefore revised our author guidelines to make them clearer. We’re also working on improving how we introduce new authors to Goodreads.

**Delete content focused on author behavior. We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior. If you have questions about why a review was removed, send an email to (And to answer the obvious question: of course, it’s appropriate to talk about an author within the context of a review as it relates to the book. If it’s an autobiography, then clearly you might end up talking about their lives. And often it’s relevant to understand an author’s background and how it influenced the story or the setting.)

We recognize that not everyone is going to agree with our approach. People have different - and often quite strongly held - viewpoints about what should and should not be allowed in a review. We’ve had suggestions that no GIFs should be allowed, reviews should be limited to 300 words only, reviews should only be allowed if you have read the book to the very last page, etc.

What we try to do is provide room for our members’ own personal approach within our overall principles rather than set rigid guidelines. We’ve found it has worked well for the community overall so far and is something that readers value.

By the way, to put things in context, every day we have more than 30,000 reviews written on Goodreads and, on average, only a handful are flagged as inappropriate. That means 99.99% of new reviews are happily within our guidelines. (Funnily enough, we get way more flags from people asking us to add a spoiler alert to a review than any other type of flagged review.)

We think we have something special here with the Goodreads community and we want to support and protect that. Thank you for being part of this. As always, we welcome your feedback on these changes and on how to make Goodreads a better place for readers and authors.

They claim this is not censorship. They are wrong.

I'm far from the first person to voice their opinion on the new direction Goodreads has taken since "becoming part of the Amazon family" earlier this year, but I won't be the last. This new policy - this arbitrary and hypocritical deletion of users personal shelves - is a bad move. It's pandering to a bunch of whiny authors, it's a blatant step to becoming more like Amazon review forums, and it's clearly a modification designed against supporting readers' personal content and opinions. 

Deleting content users have worked hard for, and have done so for FREE, for their own benefit and for the site, is wrong. Especially without any warning or any chances for those users to save their own work.

I don't usually talk about author behavior in my reviews. I do shelve books as "will not read" for those that attack reviewers, publish and profit off of fanfiction, etc. But, while I don't say much, I do think how an author acts and what they support SHOULD have an impact on whether someone will read them. 

For instance, in my review for "Orson Scott Card's"  (in quotes because it was ghostwitten for him) Earth Unaware, I say this:

Written as a prequel to the well-loved Ender's Game, Johnston's Earth Unaware tries to fill in some of the holes and unexplored history of the "Enderverse" and the first Formic War that led to Battle School, and Ender's adventures in vanquishing the "hormigas"/Formics. When this book works the most, it succeeds predominately on misplaced nostalgia for the earlier-published-but-later-in-the-chronology novels like Ender's Game, Xenophobe, Children of the Mind, etc. I found Earth Unaware to be a weak, ghost-written book that lacks the easy charisma, dynamic characters, and unique storyline that the other books possessed in abundance and which made them so memorable.

There are obviously some good, interesting ideas at play here (the asteroid mining and the cultures that sprout up around them [free miners versus corporations, etc.]) but Aaron Johnston is primarily a graphic novelist, and it shows quite obviously here. Nothing about the novel is realized to its full potential -- from characters to plot to even the action, almost all about Earth Unaware felt contrived, weak, and overdone all at the same time. This is a superficial and shallow adaptation of Ender and the world's backstory, obviously written primarily to lure in fans of Ender's Game and its subsequent sequels. The plot is minimal, the characters are in dire need of more/or a rounded personality (or in Wit's case, a connection to the actual story. His Earth-bound plot will surely coincide with the events of the sequels, but for Earth Unaware, they are more filler than anything else, Mazer Rackham cameo or not.)

Wonky pacing, uneven and unconnected storylines, cliched or predictable characters, and more made this a miss for me. The few things I found interesting were often and quickly glossed over to focus on the less developed ideas and characters. There are people who will absolutely love this and gush over the finally explained and explored first contact with the Formics, but Earth Unaware is nowhere near the league of Ender's Game in any area. This review is much shorter than most, but my disappointment with this and OSC's raging homophobia make it almost impossible for an impartial thought.

And other thoughts:

When I first read Ender's Game, I was 10. It was my first scifi novel and Ender was a protagonist seemingly created just for me to love. I still love it to this day, but more for nostalgia and my first sense of how powerful children could be than for anything else. It was revelatory: kids can be heroes and save the world too! Now that I'm older, wiser, and more exposed to the kind of hate that OSC regularly spews towards homosexuals, I find myself less and less inclined to pick up anything he's written (or was written for him.) I debated whether or not to even review this (though it's far from a glowing review) because I don't want to promote OSC in any way, shape or form, negatively or not. In this recent climate, among all these debates about author behavior and how it affects readers, I find it hard to justify my read of this/these books. Sure, OSC has never attacked a negative review or reviewer (to my knowledge, but I certainly try to ignore anything that comes out of his mouth at this point), but how authors behave does impact their work and those who read it.

As I was reading Speechless by Hannah Harrington right after this novel, it made me think about silent compliance, ignoring the bad stuff, and just doing what everyone else does for the sake of not making waves. I'm done, I'm gonna make my own wave about this; I just can't support an author who thinks it's right to discriminate against and dehumanize other people. I was granted an ARC of this, but you can bet this author will never see another penny of my cash. I won't be finishing the First Formic War series, and though I thank TOR for the generosity of reading the ARC, even an ARC of the sequel won't tempt me. Goodbye, OSC. I will still reread Ender, but I won't recommend it anyone anymore.

So long, Enderverse, and thanks for all the fish. 

To me, that entire review is valid. To the Goodreads staff? I am in violation of their "let's protect the poor authors from readers examining their behavior." But they are WRONG. How OSC acts, and who he supports, and who he dehumanizes is important. I don't watch Roman Polanski's movies. I don't buy Michael Jackson's music. There are times when the actions/views of the creator need to be known, so an informed audience can decide whether or not to give these people money. Authors are no different. They are public figures. How they conduct themselves will and SHOULD have an effect on their products and if they sell.

This has been a long weekend. Goodreads has alienated many of their "1% users" - aka the people who flock to the site day after day. They have divided bloggers into groups - those who are leaving (for BookLikes, or Riffle, or Reading Room), those who are staying, and those whose will continue to use the site as a reference but no longer post full content. It's frustrating, it's sad, and it's disheartening to see my friends splinter, to see their work casually deleted with no regard.

Goodreads has given me a lot over the years. I refuse to let it take away the fun I get from blogging and talking about books with the awesome people I have met through the site. I refuse to let it dictate to me what I can say in my reviews. What they have done here is WRONG. If the awful people behind STGRB are on your side, that should tell you a lot.

I'm angry. I'm disappointed. But I won't stop DNR'ing BBAs. I have already set up a BookLikes account (actually started in April, but ignored til this), but I haven't left Goodreads entirely. I will wait, watch, and see how this all plays out.

To my friends stil at GR: I love you, and we will still talk.
To my friends on BL: we can figure out this site together. Give it patience and time.
I don't, and won't, judge anyone for their personal choices -- I just hope that everyone keeps an open mind. 

There is a lot of work involved for those who leave, and it is daunting. There is a lot of pressure on those who have stayed, and that's depressing. So, everyone, please, be respectful of one another.

We will see how Goodreads handles the fallout from this latest modification, but the complete lack of communication does not bode well.

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge - Blogging Quirks

Saturday, September 21, 2013

I was late to know about this awesome challenge out together by Good Books and Good Wine, so when a friend wanted to start it late, I jumped it. There are several of us joining in - every Friday for 15 weeks, Christina of A Reader of Fictions, Lili of Lili's Reflections, Mickey of I'm A Book Shark and I will post our challenge answers. Stop by their blogs to see their answers! 

Blogging quirks... hmm. I don't honestly think I have too many, but here they are.

1. I read on a schedule. Kind of. I date all my reviews for ARCs and book tours, but I leave days open for mood-reading. So if I finish two review books and have three days before I need to start the next, I will pick whatever I want to read off my shelves and go with that.

2. I write notes. I read a lot, and I read fast. If I have a thought or criticism about a novel, I write it down so I can come back to it later, when I write the review. Which ties into #3...

3. I've been known to write reviews for books weeks after reading. Sometimes, I will write the review within hours, but I am also given to distraction and tv marathons. That's when my handy notebook of notes comes in handy. I am usually a few reviews behind this way, but I work better under pressure.

4. I never post discussions. I write them, get super self-conscious and then delete them without ever having let them live. I overthink things, and I get nervous so that is why my posts are usually reviews, with a few book hauls, etc. I am working on this. Opinions - I can have them on my own blog!

5. I rarely reread my reviews before I hit send. I will skim to see if the red squiggly line for typos shows up but I loathe reading my own reviews. I think I sound pretentious and ridiculous.  

6. I use the same format and font for every one of my reviews. (FYI --- that's how you can usually tell if it's a post from me or my coblogger Danielle - she uses a different font). You can find a link to the book on B&N, a link to the author's profile on GR, the genre, the #in a series, the publication date, my source for the book, and the rating all by the picture for every review on APR.

Those are the ones that pop into my mind right now. I am sure there are more, but that's what the edit button is for, right?

Review: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Friday, September 20, 2013
Title: The Shambling Guide to New York City
Author: Mur Lafferty
Genre: Supernatural Fiction
Series: The Shambling Guides #1
Pages: 350
Publication: May 28th, 2013
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5
A travel writer takes a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to find that she must write a guide to the city - for the undead!

Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can't take off her resume --- human.

Not to be put off by anything -- especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker -- Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble -- with Zoe right in the middle.
Reviewed by Danielle

Spunky girl writer accidentally gets hired to write a humorous book for a subculture she never knew existed, while solving a mystery before the end of the world. Plus obligatory romance.

I just described one of my lowest rated books of 2012 and one of my favorite of 2013.

What makes The Shambling Guide to New York City so great is it never loses that humorous part. It doesn’t take an underground publishing company run by a vampire, a zombie, and an incubus too seriously. Or seriously at all. It’s definitely a book that requires suspension of disbelief.

Zoe, a human, stumbles into a coterie, (that would be the politically correct term for monsters and magical beings,) bookstore. That probably shouldn’t happen, but we’re not going to worry about it. She finds a flyer for editor of a new publishing company. Convenient, considering she JUST left an editing job and is looking for work in the field! The head of the company is there and none too impressed by her “breathing” and “having a heartbeat”. Still, she manages to land the gig and dives right into learning about a world that’s been hiding in plain sight.

TSGtNYC doesn’t dwell on the absurdity of its plot, and neither should you. It’s fun. It takes a new, interesting look at some well known mythologies, (I liked the idea of zombies being functioning when they’re full and feral when they’re hungry,) and introduces some not-so well known ones. Sure the vampires are pretty standard, along with the fae, but seeing them all interact in a business setting remains delightful.

The world building is pretty spectacular, with most of NYC’s famous landmarks being reimagined as mystical symbols. For example, the Statue of Liberty? Sarcophagus for an ancient demon. The book focuses mostly on hiding in plain sight, though there are a few magically-hidden portals to the rats’ nest of tunnels used by coterie cabbies. Fair folk can take advantage of the boom of veg*an restaurants, while those that feed on human emotions can just sit near the hipsters. Incubus and succubus enjoy a wide variety of strip and sex clubs, including the setting of the only hard-R scene, (keeping the book firmly out of the YA section.)

I will say, using the homeless as a network of spies for the government felt odd and a little tacky. Same with the mystical but “crazy” homeless mentor. I think it’s supposed to be a commentary about how homeless people are everywhere and no one notices them, just like the coterie, but when it’s a real issue that affects 50,000 people in NYC alone? Kind of makes my fun fantasy about water sprites and death goddesses less fun.

The end fell down a bit with eleventh-hour powers and confusing action sequences. There are passages that needed to be read multiple times, and even then I’m not sure they really made sense. Spoilery example: Morgen’s maybe-death read very difficulty for me. Not only was the action hard to parse, but because there was no break or mourning, I was confused on whether she was with the group or not for the remainder of the battle. Still, I thought it was a very strong, entertaining book.

Obviously the coterie are the most interesting characters and I LOVED Morgen, Fanny, and Gwen. Granny Good Mae has an amazing backstory that I’d love to learn more about. Likewise, can Orsen, the retired vampire hunter, and Benjamin, his doctor/semi-retired Zoetist, (Life-creators. Raisers of zombies and golems,) husband get their own wacky spin off? Because I will pay good money for that. The romance didn’t set my soul on fire, but with a sweet, spunky main character and a lot of...diverse side characters, I highly recommend you don’t overthink it and just give it a try.
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